s m u g
target audience
by Steve Hawley


You Have Questions, Our Other Customers Have Answers

So I am in a discount electronics store. I'm not sure what the legal ramifications are, but lets just call it Chez Radio for the time being. This particular store is one in an endless chain that spans this country. Having patronized many Chez Radio locations in many states. I have also seen it change from an electronic hobbyist store (too niche) to a sort-of cut rate consumer electronics store. I consider this a bad thing, but if life demands so, I'll go other places for my toys.

Let me pause to give some background details on myself. I am a geek. I freely admit that. I'm certainly above average as far as usage of synaptic connections, but I'm not stellar. I have only a small understanding of electronics and I learned that in 4th grade: hook a battery up to a light bulb, the light bulb lights. If you put a switch in the betweeen them, you can turn the light on or off at will. My experience goes hardly further. Sure, I know roughly how to use a volt meter, soldering iron, and so on. Sure, I've etched my own circuit boards, but it's not all that different, really.

I also have no respect for appliances or consumer electronics. I've taken apart most every one I've owned just to see how it works. Sometimes I've fixed simple problems, other times not. I have no respect for computers. I don't wear a ground strap when I install or remove hardware. I once "fixed" a hang on a computer by taking a wire and touching it to the power supply case (ground) and running it along all the pins on one side of the CPU chip until it tripped the reset pin (I couldn't remember which pin it was, sue me).

To me it isn't rocket science because it doesn't differ much from hooking up a light bulb to a battery.

I entered Chez Radio to buy a cheap receiver and a pair of speakers for my office. Much as I like my talking clock radio I wanted somewhat better sound for both the radio and my computer.

A closeout sale was in full swing, so I picked an appropriately inexpensive combination of tuner and speakers, and cornering the sales woman and said, "I'd like one of these please and I would also..." "Hang on, I can only do one at a time," she replied brusquely as heading into the back to get it. Returning, she told me that they were out. I've been in this position before, so I just pointed at the one on the shelf and said, "sell me that one right there." "OK, let me go get the box and manual."

She disappeared again and reappeared with nothing. She looked distraught and honestly remorseful. I told her that I didn't need a box, and I haven't read a manual for a stereo in about 15 years except for amusement. Hooking up a tuner to speakers and an antenna is no different than hooking up a light bulb to a battery. I was neither disappointed nor worried.

She really wanted to get me a box at least. "No, really", I said, "you can just put it in a..." Cut off again as she vanished into the stygian depths of Chez Radio's stock room.

Now that she had a box for the tuner, she turned around to get the speakers.

Whatever. Off she went, making five trips when one would've done.

I'll spare you the details of them accepting my check, but let's just say it was much more painful than it needed to be for the amount I was paying.

"Would you like the extended warranty?" No thank you. "Are you sure? It will give you free service or replacement for up to 2 years beyond the original warranty..." I was about to launch into my lecture about solid-state electronics and crib death, but I thought better of it. I had sympathy for this young woman. Her job is not one which leaps to mind when you say, "ideal" or "dream" in the context of employment. In fact, it doesn't really leap to mind with those words in any context except maybe "torture" or "boredom". I was honestly trying to make her job easier, so there was no reason to for me to blather on about how solid state electronics, if they don't die in the first 100 hours, will probably never die in normal use.

Waiting for the paperwork, there was a customer beside me who was returning a printer cable. "No wonder," I remarked to myself. Somebody sold her a parallel printer cable for a Macintosh printer. No Mac I know of has had a parallel port. There was another sales droid trying to help her and it was a disaster in the making. I've seen this droid in action before, and to be polite, think of him as the kid you knew in second grade who ate paste, crayons, Playdoh and earwax, usually all at the same time.

He was floundering and she didn't know the right dialect to explain what she needed. I stepped in. I had to. I mean, there had to be a reason why my personal sales assistant did at least four things to prevent my purchase from happening in an expedient manner, and here it was: I was destined to help this woman.

I nosed in, "you're hooking this up to a Mac right?" She had been saying "PowerPC" and the salesdroid only heard "PC" and assumed it was not a Macintosh. He said, "Oh, we can't help you. We don't do Mac." She looked deflated. After a little more interrogation, I discovered what she really needed was a power supply for the printer, which was a gift, and no wonder, because she couldn't plug it in.

I took out a pen, borrowed a sheet of paper and wrote two carefully phrased sentences on it and numbered them. I told her to go to a specific other chain of stores which I won't list, but suffice it to say that it wasn't Fry's, then I told her that she should ask specifically for number 1, and if they don't have it, ask for number 2 which will do just as well.

I turned back to my sales assisant who was agape. From her point of view, I must have just walked across a lake. For a reason I can't comprehend, she insisted that I accept a "Cartoon Network, Sprint, Chez Radio Prepaid Calling Card."

I tried to refuse, but she was adamant.

I left Chez Radio shaking my head, like I usually do, except this time I was smiling. To the sales droid, I was an elite member of the digerati with mystical knowledge of How Things Work, but to me, I'm just a guy who knows how to hook up batteries to light bulbs, and after all, the woman with the printer just wanted to hook a funny looking light bulb up to a funny looking battery.



in the junk drawer:

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